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Collaboration technology adoption suffers when users aren't consulted

IT needs to include end users in UC and collaboration technology rollouts to determine their needs. Otherwise, IT will be disappointed in UC adoption rates.

IT organizations spend much time and money on UC and collaboration technology rollouts, but many of these implementations will fail if organizations don't first consider end user needs, and what features employees will use to get their jobs done.

There is a disconnection between IT and end user perceptions around UC and collaboration technology. If users believe that a new tool won't help their productivity, they won't use them. For UC deployments to be successful, IT must work with end users prior to deployment to ensure user adoption and encourage engagement, according to a recent survey by Softchoice, a Toronto-based IT integrator and managed service provider.

Softchoice surveyed 250 IT Managers and 750 line-of-business employees at large to mid-sized companies about how UC and collaboration deployments affect employee communication habits, preferences and workplace satisfaction. "Very few clients were telling us about their amazing UC rollouts … so we wanted to understand the [difference] between IT, and the people who are actually using the tools," said Erika Van Noort, director of consulting at Softchoice. "We often hear from IT, 'We've rolled out different UC and collaboration tools in the past, but we've never seen a return on investment.' Many rollouts are seen as fails, or didn't deliver what was expected," she said.

Failure to consider employee needs will result in money wasted on expensive UC purchases, and users going it alone, said Bill Haskins, partner and senior analyst of Duxbury, Mass.-based Wainhouse Research LLC. "Users are no longer at the mercy of IT. Employees now have the knowledge and access to cost-effective and free services that can provide most, if not all, of the services that IT can provide, and they'll just go out and get the tools they want themselves."

IT, technology ambassadors can help encourage UC adoption

Before planning a UC and collaboration technology deployment, business leaders need to establish and articulate what they are trying to accomplish with the rollout, Van Noort said. Business leaders and IT should then explain their vision of what a successful deployment would look like to their users, including what is in it for users, she said. "The top two reasons [employees] don't use new collaboration tools is because they don't feel it makes them more productive, or it's not easy enough for them,"  she said.

Employees want to be included. By simply communicating more with end users to determine their needs, UC deployments could be more successful for the business. The Softchoice survey found that 18% of employees reported that when they are consulted on a new technology, they are more likely to feel like the new tool will make them more productive. When consulted on new technology projects, employees are 23% more likely to be satisfied at their job, Van Noort said.

Technology ambassadors -- early adopters selected by the business who are comfortable with the technology and can talk about its benefits is important -- and training is critical once the new technology is in place.

The Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida is using a combination of Cisco UC and collaboration products -- including Cisco Call Manager and Cisco EX60 personal telepresence cameras -- to provide interpretation services in the courtroom, with certified interpreters working remotely.  In the midst of a hiring freeze and a budget in free fall, the court system knew it needed to make changes to function with the employees and resources it still had, said Matt Benefiel, trial court administrator for the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida. "We were actually delaying court cases because we couldn't provide interpreter services all the time," he said.

Benefiel deployed the Cisco technology in part to bring foreign language interpreters virtually into courtrooms since the court could no longer afford to fully staff all courtrooms with interpreters.   "There's nothing worse than continuing a case or waiting an hour for an interpreter [to arrive], so that was a big sell for judges. We also worked hard to convert some of our judges -- some of our biggest resistors. We believed if we could convert them, it becomes easier for the other judges," he said. "They started to see the results and [have] faster proceedings, and some of the biggest resistors have become our biggest supporters," he said.

Business leaders recognize the cost savings as well as the productivity boost. "If we had an interpreter cover a hearing that lasted five minutes, we'd lose them for half a day. Now, they can reach into courtrooms with their computer and a camera, and cover multiple courtrooms in 15 minutes," he said.

Collaboration technology, UC purchasing decisions boil down to what users need

Time constraints often hinder communication between business leaders, IT teams and the end users. "IT often does not feel like they have time to talk to all possible stakeholders, and so employees – about 77% are generally not consulted on UC rollouts," Van Noort said. But IT organizations are becoming more aware of this disconnection, she said.

"IT has to work to understand their company's culture and employee work habits. Most IT organizations think that since they support users, they must know what they need, and it kind of backfires on them. But it’s not about the technology. It needs to be about the people," she said.

"IT teams have to understand, by line of business and by role, what their employees need. Once those personas are set up, you can deliver the right combination of software or hardware to meet those needs," Wainhouse's Haskins said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writer and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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It's kind of surprising that IT departments haven't learned this yet - you can't just roll out a new tool and expect users to immediately adopt it if you've given them no input. Too often companies can get excited about a technology and not think about its actual application. 
It's so true. And often, the technology/features sound really cool in theory, but they aren't always useful or practical. For example, I'd never want to edit a document or a story from my mobile phone -- way too small an interface! But you won't know until you ask.
I think part of why people don't ask is the worry that they'll get too many conflicting answers and you can't please everyone - so nothing will ever get released. That's why it's best to identify a focused group of people who can speak to the major considerations (and collaborate on a solution).
I agree with Ben. What works for one particular customer may not be enough of a compelling feature for others. In this case, polling customers to get a take on what they are looking for and looking for the themes within the variations can prove to be very important. 
This is why almost any organization can use a well-trained user researcher at one point or another, to be able to know what questions to ask, how to ask them, and how to analyze the results and turn them into requirements.